Hope and the Atonement

Posted January 25, 2018

I gave the following at the local LDS church church I attend. Our church doesn’t have paid ministry meaning everyone who attends occasionally takes their turn preaching and exhorting.

Bishop asked me to speak on what I’m doing in my daily life to become more Christ-like. This has been an interesting talk to prepare for. It’s been really interesting to reflect on the important lessons I’ve learned over the past 5-6 years.

When I was growing up, I could never ever quite understand the role of Christ and his atonement. I sometimes got the impression that saved-by-grace-like that when you turn to Christ and your issues start magically to disappear and I was always like, “nope, still got lots of personal issues.”

Which caused me to question my faith some in my mid-late 20s — why aren’t I getting help to make my issues easier? I’m really struggling here! Maybe God doesn’t exist?

So in my talk today, I wanted to discuss how I now understand how Christ and the atonement and the Spirit help us walk the straight and narrow path of safety and joy through this life.

First is a phrase found in one of Paul’s epistles, and in Alma, and Moroni’s writings. I’ll quote Moroni’s version:

Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.

I find the latter part of that phrase incredibly evocative: “work out your own salvation”. Two things I’ll highlight.

First — salvation is work. It’s not something that’s just going to be given to us — which is what really tripped me up in the past. I was afraid of my insecurities and inadequacies and shrank back from working on them instead of plunging in.

Second — salvation is personal. “Work out your own salvation. By which I mean, everyone is incredibly unique. The problems and opportunities you face are unlike anyone else’s. I don’t believe there are general solutions to most personal problems. That there’s much advice that’s applicable to all people. When you come to church, when you talk to family and friends — they’re not going to know how to save you. They can help — give you emotional support. But working out your own salvation — figuring out how to grow past your problems — is something in the end we all have to do ourselves.

After several years of somewhat stalled progress in my 20s, once I faced what I needed to do and swallowed my fears, I started making real progress again.

Another question — what is salvation? In Alma we read that we can’t be saved in our sins but we are to be saved from our sins. Which suggests salvation is a state where we’ve left our sins behind us. D&C 131:6 says “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” and 130:18-19 says “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”

So salvation is a state where we’re knowledgeable, intelligent, wise, and not naive.

In Mosiah we read:

All mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

So we must be changed from a “carnal and fallen state” to become “new creatures” in a “state of righteousness”.

But how does this actually happen? Are we mysteriously one day going to wake up changed? Go to church enough times, take the sacrament enough times, do our home teaching enough times and then bam?

I’m pretty sure now that’s not what’s going to happen :-)

Switching gears slightly, I want to read one of my all-time favorite bits on the process of becoming a creative professional. It’s from an interview with Ira Glass which some of will you know as a producer and host on This American Life.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

So this is I think how the atonement works. It’s pretty simple actually. The atonement gives us good taste for what sort of person you can become. And that’s it. The atonement & the gospel’s whole point is to give us this sometimes dizzying perspective on what we can become.

I remember a zone conference when I’d been on my mission for around 6 months. I was super depressed. I was really struggling to get to good fluency with my mission language Tagalog. I felt really awkward trying to talk to people in general (I read way more growing up than went to parties). So I was sitting there feeling really depressed and inadequate when what came over me was perhaps the strongest spiritual experience I’ve ever had. I just felt incredibly light and hopeful. All my fears and disappointments and inadequacies just melted away and I was filled with hope and joy. And this experience lasted for several hours during most of the remainder of the zone conference. I have no idea what was taught that day but I can still remember fairly vividly the experience.

But… here’s the kicker, I walked out of that zone conference the exact same person that walked in. I still was terrible at Tagalog, I was still awkward and shy. But now, I felt hope that I could be something much more. I still had to work super hard to learn how the language, how to teach the gospel, how to socialize in all sorts of situations. But I could do it because of hope.

And this is what’s frustrating about living the gospel — we’re given this vision of what sort of people we can be — but there’s this gap. We see ourselves as these remarkable people but we know also we’re not there.

To return to the Ira Glass quote:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

It is so easy to quit. We feel this strong spiritual experience and we have this intense feeling of hope and joy in what we can become and then… weeks and months and years pass and your disappointment in yourself grows and grows until perhaps, finally, you just quit trying.

My testimony to you today is that those feelings of hope and visions of what you can become are real and that they’re a gift given to us. But also that achieving that vision is going to take a lot of hard work. There’s no getting around that. But all of us are capable of so much and we shouldn’t ever let that vision and hope slip away from us.

I’ll close with two of my favorite scriptures

First Moroni 8:26:

And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

Then Ether 12:4:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

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Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.